I have met a lot of feminists in my life, because I have been lucky enough to have a lot of women in my life. And just to be clear, the number of feminists I have met in my life is the same number as the number of women I have met.
I have never met a woman who did not know, who did not fully understand, that being a woman is awesome, but for some illogical reason, also really difficult. It is each woman’s experience of the illogical difficulty of their gender that makes them the feminist they are.
I know radically conservative feminists who rule otherwise patriarchal families with iron fists. I know comfortably conservative feminists who effortlessly support Marxist and Utilitarian ideas. I know Republican feminists, I know rabid feminists. I know feminists who grew up with equality in their bones and who have never uttered the word feminist because there was no other right ideology. I know feminists who fought to exhaustion every day for decades against family and workmates to be recognised for their work. I know feminists who have absorbed every misogyny levelled against them as right and true, and can’t work out why they are so very, very unhappy.
Feminism as a term is debated because there is a concept that it is taught, that it is a political action, that it is something that excludes, that it is different for some due to race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. All of these things are the different flavours of feminism, sure, because feminism covers the human rights of half the population of the world. Half the population of the world, like the full population of the world, is not of one monolithic race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics or education.
I regard all the women I meet as feminists, no matter how they choose to express it, because human rights for men are universal, but human rights for women are not. Feminism is the conviction that men and women must have equal rights in law and in society. So any woman who acknowledges that even ONE universal human right for women still needs to be secured, and speaks out for that universal human right, is a feminist.
Let’s start with a no-brainer – education. If you are reading this, chances are you were taught to read because of the concept that both males and females had the right to education. Unfortunately, that is not a universal human right for females yet, and I think every woman who can read knows that, has questioned that and donated towards an organization working to change that.
My question is, why is feminism a debated term when it is still so very necessary, relevant and useful in the fight for universal education rights? Every human has the right to education. Gender should not preclude one human from receiving education, and gender should not determine if one human is ‘allowed’ to be educated, when another human is educated as the status quo.
Further, if gender divisions on access to education are removed, and all humans are to be educated, then any discrimination to do with the political leanings of children’s parents, religious upbringing of children, the racial profiles of children’s parents or the children’s emerging gender or sexual identity will fail as the universal human right to education will be … wait for it … universal. Allow one universal discriminatory right that excludes half the population and you open the door for all other discrimination, which will impact on the full population, no matter how you slice it.
The universal human right to an education then logically allows all humans to contribute to society through their education, innovation and participation. This is, I think you would agree, a true and noble idea. The spread of education over the last millennia from a happy few men, to all men and a happy few women, still has a way to go. But we can all agreed that it must and will finally be a universal right for every child, no matter the situation of the child's country of birth, the decisions of the child's parents or the skills that the child is discovering as it grows, to be educated.
I think another example may be called for then – sexual security. There are no universal human rights for women not to have their genitals sliced off, not to be forcibly married, to be safe from marital rape, domestic violence or honour killings, not to be sold into sexual slavery, not to be harassed on the street or not to be blamed for sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Wow, that escalated fast hey? And I’ll tell you why it escalated fast. Because once you find one universal human right is true and noble – the idea that all humans are equally able to be educated, which means all humans are equally able to contribute to society, which means all humans are equal – all others must then follow.
It is one thing to acknowledge all children have a right to education, and quite another to then decide that one gender does not, however, have the right to sexual security, right to health care, right to employment opportunities and conditions.
Once again, no universal human right is inviolable until it is truly universal. When a human right to sexual security, health care or employment conditions is applied to one gender and not another, it means that those human rights can also be selectively applied to someone brought up in one religion rather than another, applied to someone of one racial profile than another, one political identity than another, one sexual identity than another. While there are still no universal human rights for both genders, universal human rights can be withheld from both genders. That needs to change, and everyone needs to speak up.
The basic ideological framework and discipline of feminism allows everyone, no matter what gender, race, politics or religion, to be able to see past the status quo and into the dark cracks of inequality we still have to find and change. Closing all the inequalities in the gender divide will allow for a clear platform of ALL HUMANS HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS from which to eradicate discrimination on grounds of race, sexuality, religion, politics, skills, interests … you get the picture. There is no universal platform for humans when half the population in the world still does not have equal rights.
So while I know that every woman I meet is a feminist, because she knows very well that her rights are not equal, nor universal, I do have one more question, a question that every outspoken feminist has asked, in many different forms.
Why isn’t every man I meet a feminist?